What role do graduations play in our growth?

Guest Blogger
May 20, 2013
It’s graduation season! (Even our own Megan is in on it — she graduates today with her Master’s degree in English and American Literature! Go, Megan!) Julia Graeper from our Classroom and Community Group is here with some thoughts about what these often-symbolic moments really, truly mean. Last week, a friend asked me to contribute to a “words of wisdom” book that she is compiling for her daughter who will graduate from college this month. As I wrote to her about my own experience, I also wondered whether it is possible to discover some universal truth about graduation. A big idea, I know. But graduation seems to be the occasion when, in a single breath, we’re most likely to talk about such topics as the future, the past, career, ambition, life, love, death. Well, maybe not death. But the rest seems fair game during graduation season. A student might experience many graduations: kindergarten, eighth grade, high school, college, maybe even graduate school. I wondered what these have in common. Reasonably, greeting cards and commencement speakers focus on what’s been accomplished (“you did it!”) and what lies ahead. In the letter to my friend’s daughter, I used the word “transition” a lot, particularly the disconnect between what I expected the transition to be after college, and what it actually was. I thought it would be about learning to wake up at 7:00 a.m. instead of 10:00 a.m. Instead, it was about learning how to be myself, to do new kinds of work, to fit in and find myself. Again. I thought I already did that in high school! And college! I realized that to me, that’s what graduations are really about: the preparation for the periodic re-evaluation and self-discovery that happens throughout life. When I was little, I thought there would be a single moment when I would become a grown-up. It turns out, that’s not true! We are always changing and shifting to accommodate new knowledge, new circumstances, and new expectations. Graduations help us learn to recognize these shifts and adjust. One of my first, jarring, life transitions was the move from kindergarten to first grade. That which was enforced but resisted in kindergarten – the afternoon nap – suddenly became a fond memory in first grade. The grim determination that I summoned in order to sound out Pig can jig. Dan can dig. felt positively monumental. Boy, I really wanted that afternoon nap after all the jigging and digging. After that initial struggle, reading became the very best way for me to work out who I wanted to be, again and again. And Scholastic publishes so many books at all levels about finding and being yourself, from David Shannon’s hilarious “David” series, to the brand-new Openly Straight. Because what else – if not books – helps us figure out who we are in life? Image via